Monday, September 8, 2008

Yet another post about grocery shopping

Last week in a fit of what I can only imagine was some form of nesting gone wrong, I got an irresistible urge to go to Costco. I haven't been since the last time I was hugely pregnant and that is apparent from the bloated Costco picture on the back of my expired Costco Membership Card from 2005. I re-upped my membership (spending $50 in order to "save" money is always a hard financial formula for me to comprehend), put the kids in the giant double-wide Costco shopping carts and set to work a-savin'.

For the year and a half or so that we lived in DC, I bought most of my groceries on foot and only bought what I could carry about four blocks with two kids in the stroller. That big jug of Tide might be cheaper per load, but there was no way this mommy was carrying it down a crowded sidewalk while pushing a double stroller. I shopped not with an eye for the bargains necessarily, but for what would fit in the storage compartment of my stroller.

Now we have lived in suburbia for the past year and I have slowly altered my way of looking at grocery shopping. Plus, is it me or have grocery costs gone through the roof in the last year? I can't seem to get in and out of the cookie store without spending $140. No matter what I'm buying it always magically adds up to $140. So, last week I needed to do my weekly shopping and the thought of spending $140 at the cookie store yet again was really getting me down. Plus, like I said before, I think my nesting instinct was hitting some surge last week and I decided it was finally time to renew the Costco card and go buy huge quantities of food.

At first I walked around Costco feeling really nervous. I quickly had to make up Costco rules for myself so that I wouldn't go crazy buying big screen TVs and riding lawnmowers in the name of bargain shopping. I stopped to look at some socks and thought to myself, okay, I really do need some new socks. All of mine are sad and have holes in them and they are, ironically, the socks I bought at Costco the last time I was pregnant and in this same mental state. So I handled several pairs of socks from the giant sock bin and tried to nervously calculate whether $9.99 for six pairs of socks is a good deal. I was tempted to buy socks for the whole family, but decided that this time around Brandon and I were the most in need of socks and so I stopped myself from blowing $40 on socks and instead spent $20. I had only been in Costco about 10 minutes and so far I'd spent $70. Was this really bargain shopping?

I made the mistake of cutting through the clothing section where I was very tempted to buy new fleeces for the kids. Never mind that it's about 92 degrees outside. These fleeces were cute and at $16.99 each, how could I not buy them? I picked up the fleeces and put them down, picked them up, put them down again. I did this a few more times until I finally decided that I needed to just say no and walk away from the fleeces and towards the food. I came to Costco for food and that's what I should be spending my money on. So that led me to create...
Costco rule #1:
If it has a zipper (or buttons or requires a remote control), it cannot count as "groceries."

I steered my giant cart away from all the things with zippers and buttons and headed down the snack aisle. Once again I panicked. Is $9.99 really a good deal on a giant package of dried apples that we've never tried before and have no idea if my kids will eat? I decided to take the risk and get the dried apples anyway after much internal debate. Luckily, Emma loves the apples and they are a big hit. But it could've just as easily gone the other way and we've could've been stuck with $9.99 worth of dried apples taking up half of our pantry. I also grabbed a giant bag of trail mix for $9.99 and felt pretty good about this purchase. Trail mix is my go-to snack of choice and very handy for those pregnancy-induced (and later breastfeeding-induced) munchies. I am eating it now in fact.
Costco Rule #2:
Only buy huge boxes of things you know you like.

By this point I was starting to get into my Costco groove...Suddenly $9.99 didn't seem like such a big number anymore and I was comfortable tossing giant boxes of canned tomatoes, Raisin Bran, Craisins, American cheese and granola bars into my cart.

Costco Rule #3:
If it doesn't have zippers, buttons or require a remote control, it costs $9.99

The above items were things I knew we liked and wouldn't go bad for the two or three years it would take us to eat them. I looked at this food made for giants and thought of that scene in The Shining where the kid rides his tricycle through the hotel pantry filled with huge canned goods and over sized mixing bowls. It makes me feel smugly domestic and also a little creaped out to think that we have that much food in our house right now. At what point is buying this much food crossing that imaginary line that separates buying in bulk and hoarding?

Then we made our way to the frozen and fresh foods section. I am sort of a reluctant meat eater (something Emma and I have in common), so buying a huge bag of chicken breasts and 8 lbs of ground turkey is a big leap of faith for me. I really don't enjoy cooking either of these items, but they are ingredients that figure into about one-third of our typical meals so I figured it was safe to buy them in Costco-sized quantities and freeze them. Still there is something icky to me about buying that much chicken and turkey in one shot.

We entered the chamber of milk and picked up a couple of gallons of the weird Costco gallons of milk that look like they are straight from Russia or the moon. Is it somehow cheaper to put the milk in those weird bottles? I think these are the sneaky tricks that Costco uses to make you think you are getting a "deal." Like you're going, "Gee, that milk looks like it's from Russia. It must be a great deal!" I needed milk though, so I went for it.

I bought two dozen eggs, thought long and hard about buying 12 Italian sausages and decided against it, and decided to roll the dice on a $16.00 box of frozen salmon. I bought enough potatoes, apples, onions and garlic to open a restaurant that only serves potatoes, apples, onions and garlic. I also bought a giant bag of fresh broccoli during a moment of temporary insanity. I'm not sure why or how I thought we would eat that much broccoli before it goes bad? Broccoli soup anyone? Broccoli quiche? Broccoli and peanut butter sandwiches?

Then came the moment I was dreading with two antsy kids. The coffee section. I really needed to buy coffee and it seemed like $21.00 was a reasonable price to pay for a 3-foot bag of Starbucks coffee. But as all of you Costco aficionados already know, you have to grind your own 3-foot bag of coffee. Somehow there is always a person ahead of you while you're waiting to grind your beans who is grinding about six bags of their own and using all three grinders simultaneously. "What's their story?" you think to yourself good-naturedly during the first five minutes that you're waiting...then the kids start hitting each other in the face and begging to be let out of their shopping cart cage, and you really start resenting the annoying person with all the coffee. You want to yell at them that that much coffee can't possibly be good for them and maybe they should cut back a little. You decide that you will let the kids out to go look at the drum kit that is set up right across the aisle from the coffee grinder. You think maybe the kids playing the drums will encourage the coffee freak to move things along a little. And it does. Charlie does a drum solo and I finally get my turn at the coffee grinder.

A few minutes later we are in the check-out line. The grand total is announced matter-of-factly by the cashier. I swallow hard and hand over my debit card. The total is way more than I would've spent at the cookie store. I feel a sinking feeling as I eye the mountains of boxes of food (and socks). Have I made a huge mistake? I can't believe I've spent this much money on stuff that does not even have a zipper or require a remote control.

It has been a week since my Costco trip and except for the random milk run, we really haven't had to go to the grocery store and I don't anticipate having to do a big shopping trip again for quite some time. So I would say that the trip was a success. Now I have the creative challenge of coming up with different meals that involve chicken, ground turkey, eggs, broccoli, potatoes, canned tomatoes and salmon. Here are the meals I've come up with so far:

Broccoli quiche
Turkey meatloaf, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli
Spaghetti with meat (ground turkey) sauce
BBQ Chicken, baked potatoes (with broccoli & cheese), apples
Broccoli soup
Oven baked chicken nuggets and broccoli rice casserole
Turkey burgers with oven roasted potatoes
Spanish Tortilla (omelet) with potatoes & onions & gazpacho
Salmon with mashed potatoes & (you guessed it) broccoli
Turkey chili

Anyone got any other brilliant meal ideas involving chicken, ground turkey, broccoli, potatoes, onions, apples, eggs, tomatoes, & salmon?

I know there are some very savvy meal planners out there because I've read your blogs (Phillips Family, Robin, Raegan). Please help me keep things interesting with my limited selection of ingredients!


Nancy said...

" At what point is buying this much food crossing that imaginary line that separates buying in bulk and hoarding?" That link cracked me up so much...and it's what's going to be going through my head before, during, and after each and every Costco trip!

Phillips Family said...

I LOVED your recount of your Costco experience...mainly because I got to enjoy it from the comforts of my home rather than actually experiencing it with my own children in my own life!

I often keep a instant pizza crust mix on hand (the kind that comes in a bag for about 70 cents). Mix it up, roll it out, and then fill it with ingredients that go together. For example, chicken, broc., cheese, and a tad bit of dijion mustard. Put the filling down the center of the crust, fold the dough over it (looks like a long rectangle type of thing at this point) and bake according to pizza crust directions. My family loves this (except my daughter who only eats chicken nuggets, raisins, and fries)

gwen1234 said...

"I bought enough potatoes, apples, onions and garlic to open a restaurant that only serves potatoes, apples, onions and garlic." -- cracked me up. I would totally go to that restaurant if you were its chef. :)

I am not sure if your kids would be up for this, but I really like this chicken and apple curry recipe:

Maybe you could just leave out the curry powder, and serve it with potatoes?

Jennifer said...

How about a nice curry? Brown 1 1/2 lb. chicken chunks in olive oil, set aside. Saute onion, potatoes, and broccoli in same pan adding 1 T. curry powder, 1/2 c. chicken broth, and 1 can coconut milk. Simmer until veggies are tender. Add chicken back in and simmer until sauce thickens. Serve over rice.

We like to have curry once a week. It's a hit at our house.

Congrats on serious restraint at Costco!!

Robin said...

I'm way impressed with your list of meal ideas! And I don't have much to add...I have very little Costco experience from which to draw. I much prefer to pay more for less food. :) But I do have a yummy brocoli cornbread recipe that I pair with brown or black beans when I want a cheap, meatless meal. I can send that if you're interested. You could maybe make a chicken soup to go with it instead?

Happy cooking,

Cindi said...

I always love it when I see people walking out of those warehouse stores, pushing their baskets and wondering HOW they could've spent THAT much money!! We have done our fair share of zippers, remote controls, and massive cans of tuna fish and jars of peanut butter! It's our contribution to stimulate the economy!
I now also have a blog

DCVol said...

This post cracked me up.....I share many of your same feelings when I enter CostCo. And it's amazing how each $9.99 purchase adds up to ridiculous amounts in the check-out line. Your meals are inspiring to me, so thanks for the post! Hugs, Kelly S.